Principles for Interpreting Narratives of the Old Testament (G. Fee and D. Stuart)

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: covenant


The following ten principles should help you to avoid obvious errors in interpretation whenever you seek to exegete the Old Testament.

1. An Old Testament narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.

2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.

3. Narratives record what happened-not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral of the story.

4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us. Frequently, it is just the opposite.

5. Most of the characters in Old Testament narratives are far from perfect and their actions are, too.

6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge that on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in the Scripture.

7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21:25). What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.

8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions. They have particular, specific limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere, in other ways.

9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).

10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

Taken from HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH by GORDON FEE and DOUGLAS STUART, p.83. Copyright ©1981, 1993 by the Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House (

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